Purchasing Skills Leading to Success: How to Succeed in Innovation Sourcing

Klaas Stek

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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This dissertation’s overarching research objective is to determine which competences lead to success in the purchasing and supply (chain) management function, and the eventual focus is on the most distinct strategic activity in purchasing, which is innovation sourcing.
In the past decades, the purchasing and supply chain management discipline changed from an operational function to a strategic function. Innovations are increasingly purchased from suppliers or are co-developed. It places the purchasers in the so-called ‘boundary spanner’ role, meaning that they became virtual bridge-builders between the partners in the internal organisation and the possible suppliers somewhere in the global market.
Purchasers fulfil a vital role as ‘boundary spanner’, and a precondition for purchasing’s success is a high level of top managerial support. With quantitative methods, evidence is shown that investing in purchasers’ competence development is useless without acknowledging the importance of the purchasing function in innovation sourcing. In an excellent organisational atmosphere, purchasers can develop and apply their competences.
This study measured purchasers’ levels of success or effectiveness per specific purchasing focus (i.e. cost reduction, quality improvement, delivery improvement, sustainability improvement, innovation sourcing, increasing supplier satisfaction and competitive advantage), and purchasers’ competences are revealed that are either sufficient or necessary. Primarily hard skills are associated with success or effectiveness, but soft skills are necessary for hard skills.
The outcomes show that purchasers need knowledge and understanding about their product and process but highlight the essence of soft skills. With quantitative methodologies, a hierarchy in competences is revealed; soft skills are necessary conditions to carry out professional hard skills. A successful purchaser for innovations possesses networking skills, complex problem solving, proactivity, result-driven, conflict-resolution, creativity, persuasion, curiosity and an entrepreneurial attitude. These soft skills are necessary to perform well in hard skills as supplier relationship management, innovation management, analytical skills, process and project management and personnel leadership skills that characterise the successful purchaser of innovations.
Purchasers need to align the purchasing strategy with the organisation’s strategy and carry out a strategic purchasing plan. To execute these professional hard skills, soft skills, attitudes or traits are needed as strategic thinking, inventiveness, and creativity. However, the literature shows that universities are focused on the learning outcomes regarding hard skills and theory. Therefore, soft skills are mostly absent in courses’ learning objectives.
This dissertation’s recommendation for higher education is to include soft skills learning objectives. However, the question is whether these attitudes or traits are innate or can be developed. Therefore an educational experiment is executed demonstrating how soft skills could be developed with three cohorts of master students via a student-centred approach within a timeframe of ten weeks. The educational construct is differentiating between didactics, learning outcomes and assessment of ‘knowledge’, ‘skills’ and ‘traits’ with a book writing project, a real-life purchasing case and personality development workshops.
Moreover, this dissertation provides a historical context of purchasing and education in the era of the Internet-of-Thing or Industry 4.0 (i.e. the 4th Industrial Revolution). A parallel is drawn with the challenges during the 1st Industrial Revolution, about two centuries ago. Soft skills development is highly associated with the 19th-century “Bildung” ideals to create ‘better citizens’. Recently, a similar call resounded in the European ministers for education meeting: students need “to become active and responsible citizens in the future”. This thesis alerts that imposed Bildung would obstruct conscious self-development; soft skills development can be influenced by external stimuli but is nevertheless a personal effort.
The conclusion could very well be made that the necessity of soft skills for purchasers is forming this dissertation’s red thread. The absence of attention for soft skills development in purchasing curricula in higher education is the other side of the same coin. In Chapter 7 is demonstrated that soft skills can be developed in a short time frame.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Schiele, Holger, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date11 Jun 2021
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-94-6421-364-5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Purchasing and Supply Management
  • competencies
  • skills
  • Innovations
  • Interview-based research method
  • World Café method
  • Survey data collection
  • Cultural differences
  • Purchasing performance
  • Polynomial regression
  • Necessary and sufficient optimality conditions
  • Experimental and observational research
  • Sourcing decisions
  • Higher education policy/development
  • Higher Education
  • Soft skill
  • Professional development
  • Structural equation modeling


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